moles & voles

Asked July 22, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT

We have ground moles in our yard and they are causing extensive damage. Please tell us how to get rid of them.

Currituck County North Carolina

1 Response

Moles are primarily insect eaters and their digging or tunneling may uproot some plants, provide convenient travel routes for other pests, and make a lawn unsightly. However, they can be a major nuisance for homeowners, leaving trails and tunnels throughout the lawn and making a mess of the grass. They are active at all times of the year. Various home remedies and scare tactics such as bleach, mothballs, castor oil, noisemakers, etc. have not proven to be effective at all for mole management. Control can be difficult, but there are a few options.

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine if your problem is truly moles or if you actually have voles, as this will determine the best method of control. Voles are small rodents that resemble mice. They primarily cause damage by feeding on the stems or roots of perennials and small shrubs in landscapes, while moles primarily feed on earthworms, grubs and other insects that are found in the soil. Only some types of voles will burrow into the ground and leave tunnels, as others prefer to move above ground. However, all voles will crawl through previously established mole tunnels. If tunnels are present, the best way to tell if they are caused by moles or voles is to look for small golfball sized holes near the tunnels. These are the holes left by voles exiting the tunnels. Moles do not leave these kinds of exit holes.

The most consistently effective mole control is achieved by trapping. Harpoon, scissors-jaw, and choker loop traps seem to be the most effective types of mole traps. Mole traps complete with instructions are available from lawn & garden, farm, or hardware type stores. Traps are most effective when set over the deeper more permanent mole tunnels instead of the shallow meandering type tunnels. To determine active runways, press down short sections of the raised ridges in your yard and mark these locations. Active runways will be repaired as moles continue to feed and travel, while abandoned tunnels will not be repaired. Set traps only at the active locations, and move traps within three days if you fail to catch moles. Time, patience, and knowledge of mole activity is essential to successful trapping.

If your problem is voles, you can trap them by finding one of the tunnels they are using, dig out a portion and place a small mouse trap length-wise in the tunnel and set it. You can bait it with peanut butter or a peanut butter/oatmeal mixture. Then cover the disturbed site with a bucket or some other object or material that will provide total darkness as to not alert the animals to the disturbed area. They will run through the tunnel and get caught in the trap. In addition, it may be beneficial to use short wire guards or landscape barriers around plants of special value if you suspect you have a vole problem. You can also discourage voles from invading your yard by keeping the grass mowed short and reducing the amount of thatch in the lawn. Poisoned pellets are also available from lawn and garden type stores for dealing with severe vole problems. These pellets or “poisoned peanuts” are usually labeled as “mole and gopher” bait. However, this would not be advised if you have animals or small children that could easily get into these products.

An alternative mole control is aimed at food supply reduction by killing grubs in the soil; however, grubs are not the only food supply for moles. If you have grubs in your lawn, getting rid of them may eliminate the mole problem. During the winter grubs are inactive, and are burrowed deep into the soil. As they mature, they will come to the surface of the soil in April and May, before fully maturing into adult form and leaving the soil entirely. Check for grubs in April by digging out a small patch of turf and inspecting the top layer of soil for small, white, wormlike insects. If you find grubs, you can apply Sevin to the soil surface to kill the grubs. Follow all label directions when applying Sevin or any other pesticide. If no grubs are present, the moles are most likely feeding on earthworms, in which case no pesticide would be necessary for control.

More information about destructive animals in the garden is available at:http://anr.ext.wvu.edu/lawn_garden/gardening-101/flower-gardening/warding-off-destructive-animals-from-the-garden.